Friday, June 22, 2007

Oh la la language…

Here we are in France, where it is the custom to greet everyone you see. Passing someone on the street means that you look at them, acknowledge them and speak to them. It is the norm to “dit bonjour,” however this can be somewhat awkward as in this town you are more likely to be speaking French to someone who doesn't. As you may be able to see in the photo, there are boats from everywhere here – New Zealand, Australia, England, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, the USA, etc., etc.

Just the other evening we were having a glass of wine with a couple and he was telling a story about how he was washing his boat and the water sprayed into a hatch and hit his computer. His computer screen went blank and he was certain he had destroyed the computer so, he said, he took a "torch to the monitor."

Well, I know computers can be frustrating but that did seem a tad extreme to me. A few minutes further into the conversation I realized that, to an Australian, a torch is a flashlight. Thank goodness the computer was saved and the monitor just had to be read by flashlight.

Last evening, someone who lives on a boat further down the canal, swam over to our boat – I guess it was the only way he thought he could get an invitation aboard – up and over the stern. His girlfriend was in pursuit by land, found him and joined him in a glass of wine with us. He refers to them as a “Mank and a Yank” – I’ll let you figure that one out on your own as I’m still trying to make sense of it; sounds like exotic cat breeds to me.

The language thing does get a bit tricky and some days are easier than others. This hit me full force the day after I arrived in Paris this time and Dave and I were at the train station on our way to Dijon. Dave had gone to get our tickets and I was guarding the luggage when a man come up to me with his hand out and asked (in French of course) for money. There are about a zillion of these folks in and around the train stations and this one was relatively well dressed and was wearing a decent watch so I wasn’t of a mind to give him any money. I simply said to him that I didn’t speak French. He gave me a curious look and continued his plea, so I said, again, that I didn’t speak French and added that I didn’t understand him, just for good measure. About two minutes after he walked away I burst out laughing because I realized that I had been speaking to him in French!

It is very easy when you are in a foreign country, and equally rude, to say “I don’t speak the language.” The French do not look favorably upon this attitude. They would prefer that you give it a try. They may not understand you. They may pretend to not understand you and they may speak perfectly good English but wouldn’t give you the slightest hint that they could converse easily with you. They think if you are in their country you should speak to them in their language. If this were true in the US we would be able to navigate the Miami, FL airport as English speaking Americans – we wouldn’t have to have a course in Spanish simply to get from one terminal to another but that is another matter.

Attitude is what the French have in abundance, and it is a strange and wonderful phenomena. We asked Jean-Luc the other evening why the church bells ring at 7:05 in the evening rather than at 7:00; his reply was that it is too busy at 7:00.

Need I say more? Well of course – but on another day.

A beintot!